Miguel Herrera's days as coach of Club Tijuana are numbered, though what that number is will be up to his team.
The Herrera era on the frontera ends as soon as his team is knocked out of the Liguilla, and the playoff run will stop Sunday if Tijuana isn't able to pull off an unlikely comeback against Tigres. The Monterrey side won the first leg 2-0 and has a streak of 23 consecutive matches across all competitions without allowing multiple goals.
Herrera's Xolos side made history, finishing this tournament as the top seed and becoming the first team to top back-to-back regular season tables since the league switched to short tournaments in the 90s. Yet, while he achieved a portion of the goals stated when he took over ahead of the 2016 Clausura in getting the team back to respectability and once again making the Estadio Caliente into a feared place to visit, he's missed out on the biggest goal.
Tijuana has won only one playoff series - last week's quarterfinal with Morelia - under Herrera's leadership and without an improbable comeback will likely end his Tijuana tenure with that lone playoff triumph instead of bringing the team a second title in its young history.
There is every indication that the former Club America coach is set to return to Mexico City in hopes of returning Las Aguilas to the glory days (or at least the postseason) once his time at Tijuana comes to a close. Xolos' directors weren't naive. They knew this day was coming from the moment they convinced Herrera to sign on the dotted line as soon as he was able after being fired as Mexico coach, not for on-field matters, but for a physical confrontation with a commentator.
Herrera and Xolos are both likely to move into the next phase without much acrimony. Herrera is going back home to Mexico City where he's spent much of his career, and Xolos are reportedly set to bring in capable young Argentine Eduardo "El Chacho" Coudet to continue its project.
But how will Herrera be remembered? The decisions he makes ahead of Sunday's second leg will be critical. The 49-year-old is known for man management but may have erred when he pulled midfielder Joe Corona out of the starting lineup in favor of another defender after originally announcing the American would start. An injury to Juan Carlos "Topo" Valenzuela will make the decision to put Corona back in the starting XI easier, though his choices up top may be complicated after speedy Mexican forward Henry Martin's substitute cameo in the first leg led to a more dangerous attack than when starter Milton Caraglio was in. They my end up playing together if Aviles Hurtado is unable to recover from a left knee problem that forced him off late into the second half Thursday.
"I'm feeling a lot better and I'm calm, waiting on my progress to be good and get to 100 percent for Sunday," Hurtado told reporters this week. "For the return leg, the group is good, confident that we can turn things around on Tigres at home. With our fans, it's going to be different."
Herrera will hope to have Hurtado's services and that the Colombian is right. The coach has made himself the center of attention, intentionally or not, during this series with his bombastic comments about Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti perhaps having Alzheimer's followed up with softened but still charged language after the first-leg defeat. If he's unable to back up the talk with a strong coaching performance that gets his team into the final, Herrera's time in Tijuana will be remembered as successful but a stint that ultimately fell short of reaching the team's highest goals.